At Stewart/Colbert ‘Sanity’ Rally, a Call for Fewer Political Extremes

BY Quinn Bowman and Sarah Sullivan  October 30, 2010 at 6:03 PM EDT

Was it humor or was it politics? We may never fully know, but crowds came to Washington by the busload Saturday for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” Some rally-goers said they were there to “get their message out,” while others sought a comedy show — but everyone seemed to agree that the country’s political divisions run deep.

“This election has been driven by both extremes, whether it is the left screaming over the right or the right screaming over the left, a lot of people that are in the middle are kinda left out of the conversation because they don’t want to scream at anybody,” said Paulash Bandy, 29, of New Jersey.

That sentiment was echoed by scores of rally participants.”A lot of people feel there are not really politicians that they can really identify with right now, so I think that young people are trying to figure out how they want to be involved politically,” said Laura Masterson, 23, of Arlington, Va.

“So many more people are here than I thought there would be,” said Sarah McCarthy, 32, of Pittsburgh. “It’s great to see so many people getting together, having a laugh, not shouting. Everyone is here- not just one [political] side.”

Within the crowd, congeniality prevailed. At the end of the three-hour event, which mixed musical performances with on-stage shtick, Stewart addressed the crowd with a call for more rational discourse. “We live now in hard times,” Stewart said. “Not end times.”

Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart; Getty Images

While no official estimate has been reported on the size of the crowd, Stewart deadpanned at the start of the event that it was at least “10 million.”

“People really see this as their chance to put their message out there. And when I say ‘they,’ I mean those that weren’t represented by previous rallies – Glenn Beck, the Sept. 12th March. That’s why I think there’s such a popular showing,” said Adam Gresek, 32, of Arlington, Va. “It’s sort of a free for all anybody who doesn’t see that particular side of American politics.”

Some carried signs intended for laughs; others came out with impassioned pleas for the calming of partisan rhetoric. Although the organizers insisted that the rally was apolitical, many participants disagreed.

“It’s a political rally,” said Clay Christian, 51, of Bethesda, Md. “A lot of people are frustrated, and they enjoy somebody who kind of cuts through that,” he said. “It’s a good thing any time you can heighten the discussion, and bring people together to talk about problems and try to come up with creative solutions.”

So will the rally-goers turn out to vote in Tuesday’s midterm election? Some in the crowd hoped so.

“We’re here because we want to remind people to vote,” said Jennifer Thies, 34, of Silver Spring, Md. “I don’t care about people’s personal politics but they should at least study up on the issues and get out to vote. That’s the most important thing.”

With reporting from Elizabeth Shell, Katherine Stevens, Jada Smith and Janeen Wynn; Video editing by Kiran Moodley.